Legacy of Lynchings exhibit at MOSH unlocks Jacksonville's hidden racial history

Legacy of Lynchings exhibit at MOSH unlocks Jacksonville’s hidden racial history

The Equal Justice Initiative and Jacksonville Community Remembrance Project Brings Legacy of Lynchings to Jacksonville

Knowledge is the key to understanding. The Museum of Science and History, in partnership with the Jacksonville Remembrance Project, unlocks the city’s often hidden racial history in a compelling new exhibit.

Legacy of Lynchings opens Aug. 24 and will run through December. The exhibit’s opening date coincides with the 96th anniversary of the murder of benjamin Hart, a black man who was shot and his body dumped in a ditch along Kings Road.

“Racial terror lynchings were not about the guilt or innocence of the person murdered,” notes MOSH’s Curator Paul Boucier. “They were a tool of racial control, intended to instill fear in black communities and suppress their civil rights. With a stronger understanding of the legacy of racial terror lynchings on our community, we believe Jacksonville will be stronger and better equipped to understand and reduce barriers to opportunity for all people.” 

White men posing as sheriff’s deputies took Benjamin Hart from a lumber camp in 1923, claiming he was suspected of being a Peeping Tom, although his boss later recounted that Hart was actually at his office at the time the peeper was reported several miles away.

Soil collected from the various sites will be included in the exhibit to commemorate the lives lost.  The collection of soil from lynching sites provides opportunities for communities to come together in a tangible way to express our generation’s resolve to confront the continuing challenges that racial inequality creates,” says Boucier. 

Legacy of Lynchings exhibit at MOSH unlocks Jacksonville's hidden racial history
The NAACP’s flag flies on Fifth Avenue, in 1936.

This exhibit, under the auspices of The Jacksonville Community Remembrance Project, is part of 904ward, a nonprofit organization that offers a welcoming and safe space for people in Jacksonville “to learn from each other, grow together towards healing solutions, and celebrate the successes that reduce racial barriers for people of color and make the city work for everyone, says Bourcier. “We work toward an inclusive Jacksonville where everyone has the opportunity to learn, grow, and be successful, regardless of race or ethnicity.” 

Bourcier was among the Community Remembrance Project volunteers who worked to identify locations on or near the exact site of local lynchings. 904ward invited a number of community organizations including MOSH to join the conversation about the commemoration of racial terror lynching victims in Duval County. Given MOSH’s commitment to both exploring the relevance of history and furthering community discussions about enduring issues of social justice–MOSH’s recent hosting of the Race: Are We So Different? and Anne Frank: A History for Today exhibits are examples–MOSH’s involvement in this initiative was a natural fit, he says.

Duval County has seven documented lynchings, and the Jacksonville Community Remembrance Project is working to add detail and additional information to what is currently known, in addition to examining additional cases and identifying living descendants of the victims.

Legacy of Lynchings exhibit at MOSH unlocks Jacksonville's hidden racial history
Equal Justice Initiative Panel Photo

These seven were part of an epidemic of lynchings that took place across 20 states between the end of Reconstruction in 1877 and 1950. The Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) conducted research identifying more than 4,400 African-American men, women, and children who were killed in racial terror lynchings. 

The Equal Justice Initiative also created The National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama, which opened earlier this year, as well as historical markers in local communities where racial terror lynchings took place. Markers will be installed across the South, including sites in St. Augustine and Orlando, to build awareness in local communities about the legacy left by these lynchings.

“Public commemoration plays a significant role in prompting community-wide reconciliation. Community-wide reconciliation will make our city stronger and better equipped to take action toward reducing racial inequities and injustice,” says Boucier. “When the JCRP’s all-volunteer effort is complete, it will result in published research about the documented cases, the establishment and unveiling of a historical marker, community-wide and youth education programming, and a scholarship essay contest for youth.”

According to Boucier, the Equal Justice Initiative supplies the text for one side of each marker, concerning racial terror lynching in America at large, and the JCRP drafts the text for the other side, which recounts the details of the specific lynching incident appropriate to the site. The content was researched and scripted by members of the JCRP’s Research Team, which includes history professors from local colleges.

The JCRP’s Research Team poured over contemporary newspaper accountings of the lynchings and examined contemporary maps to determine the locations. In some cases, exact locations were reported, as is the case with the lynching of Bowman Cook and John Morine at the intersection of North Main Street and Cemetery Road (now Winona Drive) on September 8, 1919. In other cases, only approximate locations could be ascertained, and marker locations were suggested within those areas based on visibility. 

Says Boucier, “We hope that the exhibit will increase public awareness about an aspect of our past – one of terrorist violence, forced exodus, and racial hierarchy – that resonates in various ways with issues we face today. We hope that visitors will be encouraged to engage in dialog about the subject, and the issues it raises, so that we can learn from it and work to build a better future.” 

Those interested in learning more about the project, volunteering to participate, or who may be descendants of lynching victims, are encouraged to visit 904ward.com to contact the organizers of the project.

About Liza Mitchell